PacMan turns 25 this month along with its arch rivals, the ghosts Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde.
The quintet of stars in the world’s first and most popular video game still holds a strong place in the market with newly released versions of the game: PacMania 3D, PacMan World 3, Pac PacPd PacMan Pinball. For 25 years PacMan has entertained us, captured our pocketbooks with hundreds of licensed products, starred in his own cartoon show and allowed us to follow his personal life with Ms. PacMan and Junior PacMan.
This cheerful, yellow spot of energy gobbled up bazillions of point – gathering dots and millions of our leisure hours – including the six straight hours of play by the world’s first and only person known to play a perfect game of PacMan: Billy Williams. Williams scored 3,333,360 points after clearing all 256 levels during six hours of play in 1999, according to video game record keepers Twin Galaxies.
I would have beaten Williams into the record book years ago – if I hadn’t had to wait for my son to let me play the miniaturized version of the game I gave him for his birthday.
I found the personal – sized game on the after Christmas mark – down shelves at Kmart a few weeks before my son’s birthday. We had discouraged plunking down quarters to play the arcade version. I rationalized the economy of an at – home version and bought it.
At home, I took it out of the box, plugged it in and tried my hand at the popular game.
That was my big mistake.
Directing the cheerful yellow ball around the maze, I avoided the ghosties and bounced to the next level. An hour later, having figured out how to get into the third or fourth level of the game, I stopped, looked up and realized that I had better things to do than play with my child’s video game before he ever received it as a gift.
I pulled out the wrapping paper, taped it shut, put it on my closet shelf and started supper.
I was busy cleaning the morning dishes when I felt the irresistible pull of the PacMan game. I just knew I could get to the fifth level … if only birthday gifts didn’t have to wait to be opened by the recipient.
I slit the tape at one end of the wrapping paper, slid the game out of the package and promised myself just a few minutes of play.
Much later, I looked up, shoved the game back into the box, and re – taped the gift.
That night my husband caught me sneaking another game. “That is the first time I have ever seen a birthday present played with so much before the birthday,” he gently scolded.
“I’ll put it back soon as I finish this game,” I promised.
And I did … I think.
The birthday came. The child received his present and enjoyed it for a few weeks – before I wore it out.
We were learning to live without PacMan and his ghosts – when I found an Atari game unit with three or four game cartridges – including the original PacMan – at a garage sale. I bought it: An absolutely ridiculous thing to do – we had never owned a television set in our entire 13 – 14 years of marriage. Atari mandates access to a TV set to play PacMan.
I found a black and white set at a garage sale. PacMan and the ghosties faded to gray tones, but the fun remained and we now had Frogger as well. Without a TV antennae to receive shows, I – that is we – had lots of time to play. Meals burned, dishes stacked up as I conquered level after level. Children got sick and called for me and I answered, “just a minute” without turning away from the screen.
It took a couple years, but I finally realized I needed to break free from the obsession.
On this 25th anniversary of the advent of PacMan, I can look back with amusement, but I refuse to look around and find the new PacMan games. I have better things to do with my time.
(Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News – Times.)